A student perspective on Career Trek, a Windy City adventure
Grayson Jensen’25 and dozens of students went behind the scenes at some of Chicago’s most noted cultural institutions and businesses during an April Chicago day trip exploring careers in design and the arts. Welcomed by alumni, coached on resume building, and puzzled by lots of tableware at a trustee-hosted lunch, they returned to campus inspired about their future careers.
The sky was overcast at 8 a.m., and I was tired as I boarded the bus for the Career Trek trip to Chicago with a handful of my friends and 44 other students. Counting the number of unique Illinois license plates (nine, just on the way there) kept me occupied until we arrived at our first stop of the day: The Art Institute of Chicago. Our antsy horde of students was led to the lower level of the institute and into the Rubloff Auditorium, where the first panel of the day was about to begin.
We were welcomed by employees from across the institute’s various departments, including the associate curator of ancient Egyptian art and the institute’s senior visual designer. Though we didn’t have time to explore much of the institute itself, the panelists shared the sort of work that went into the interpretations, institutional relations, visual design, and 11 curatorial departments. Twelve students followed up with questions for the panelists, prompted by the career-focused purpose of our trip, such as what employers look for in a resume.
Afterward, John Notz, a former Beloit College trustee, welcomed us to lunch at The Cliff Dwellers Club, right across the street from the Art Institute. Though my friends and I were initially overwhelmed by the number of knives, spoons, and forks set at each place, we quickly got over our discomfort and enjoyed a delicious meal.
At The Cliff Dwellers, our group ran into Deirdre McCloskey — a world-class economist, former Upton Scholar at Beloit, and now professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago — who also happened to be having lunch there. She joined our table of prospective creative writing and anthropology majors and happily talked about her travels to China and her experience of gender-crossing, which I had recently read about in my philosophy class.
My friend Sydney Moses’25 and I accompanied Logan Museum Director Nicolette Meister and seven other students on a 15-minute walk to The Field Museum of Natural History to begin the second half of the day’s activities, encountering light rain on the way. Collections curator Jamie Kelly’96 and director of exhibition operations Tom Skwerski’87 welcomed us to the museum.
We toured for about two and a half hours, getting an exclusive look at the new, in-progress Native North America Hall, which aims to tell a new kind of narrative. Skwerski described it as “a story-based exhibition that uses objects to help illustrate those stories.” Communication with several Native American communities was crucial to the hall’s renovation, and Skwerski emphasized how important it is to be cognizant of how different nations want to be represented.
Kelly then took us to the museum’s basement, where collections are stored. Passing through several storage garages, we were able to see baskets and a Western-style wedding dress from nations in the Pacific, ancient Mediterranean ceramics and burial urns, and Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Our last stop on the The Field Museum tour was the conservation workspace, where we connected with another Beloit alumna, Emily Starck’14, and a few of her co-workers who were eager to share their work with us. They gave tips for those interested in pursuing a career in conservation or collections, including sending emails, reaching out to programs across the country, and letting mentors and professors know what you’re interested in so they can push you in the right direction. They also said that “being a huge nerd all the time is really helpful.”
Once we returned to campus, I was able to catch up with my friends about their experiences at The Newberry Library and Studio Gang Architects. India David’25 had gone to Studio Gang, the firm that designed Beloit’s Powerhouse, and shared that she saw the working model for the ceiling at a new O’Hare International Airport terminal — even before the Chicago mayor did. One Beloit alumna she met, Andi Altenbach’13, had started out as an intern at Studio Gang and gradually worked her way up to archivist and librarian.
Jared Saathoff’25 and Sam Doherty’25 went with The Newberry Library group and got a comprehensive overview of the library’s services along with a tour of the reading rooms. “It was a cool place,” Jared said. “I got the feeling that I could spend an hour there every day and I would still not scratch the surface of what’s there.” The library’s collection includes research on genealogies, printing and typefaces, and even William Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Even though we went to different locations, my friends and I got the same impression that finding a career in the future would not be as impossible as we first thought. Each employee we talked to — whether at The Newberry, Studio Gang, The Field Museum, or The Art Institute — had a similar message: You might not end up at all where you planned, but you’ll often find that your passions or majors can be applied to careers in many unexpected ways.